Big Environmentalism's Blinders
The American Wind Wildlife Institute brings together seven big national or international environmental organizations and the industrial wind energy industry to "facilitate[ ] the responsible development of wind energy with the least possible impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat." The Institute believes, in the words of founder Wayne Walker, the industry will soon "be contributing a significant amount to the nation's energy supply" that will result in "a long-term sustainable platform" for electricity generation for the nation. The industry has raised three million dollars for the Institute.
This collaboration reflects the co-opting of Big Environmentalism by an industry that needs billions in tax dollars or foregone tax revenues to erect hundreds of square miles of habitat disrupting, raptor and bat killing wind farms that generate at about 20% of their design capacity, mostly at night with the result that the electricity generated has little value and requires other generating sources to back it up when the wind is insufficient (or too strong) to allow wind farms to operate. Perhaps worse, the industry has shown no regard for human communities which, especially in the northeast, have already populated rural areas so densely that wind farms cannot be sited without substantially intruding on the peace and quiet.
Big Environmentalism's willingness to jump into bed with an unplanned approach to clean energy reflects a remarkable disregard for science. In 2007 the National Research Council concluded that, due to its inability to deliver sustained electricity and its reliance on fossil fueled power plants in most settings to backup its capacity, by 2020 Big Wind could offset no more than 4.5% of CO2 generated by other power plants, and the power sector generates 39% of the nation's CO2. In 2012 NYISO estimated that the effective capacity of indsutrial wind, owing to its variable generation, is no more than 10% of its installed capacity in New York. (In Kansas it's closer to 30%. Hydropower, nuclear and most natural gas fueled power plants operate at 90-95%.) Today Big Wind provides less than one percent of the nation's electricity, despite a dramatic increase in installed capacity over the last decade.
Wind power is usually backed up by power plants fueled by natural gas. But recent research has found that normal leaks from equipment, pipelines and other infrastrcture at shale gas drilling sites releases methane in quantities that more than offset the benefit in CO2-equivalent reductions of coal-fired power plants these facilities could replace. In other words, pairing natural gas with wind (so far) will make little or no progress in combating greenhouse gas emissions.
Big Environmentalism's flirtation with Big Wind reflects not only a disconnect with the limits of wind energy, but a disconnect with Grassroots Environmentalism, which is spawned wherever wind farms are sited without regard to human communities. In contrast to Big Environmentalism, grassroots environmentalists find fundamental injustice in the demand of Big Wind and its supporters that they become a sacrifice zone for an unproven experiment.